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Does chess make you smarter?

Does chess make you smarter? Studies that show that playing chess can improve your intelligence and memory.

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Heights
August 18, 2022
4 min read

If you're anything like us, The Queen's Gambit made you curious about the power of a chessboard. Does chess make you smarter? Can you become a prodigy like Beth Harmon? Well, the answer is maybe. The game is one of strategy and skill, not just luck. There are studies that show that playing chess can actually improve your intelligence and memory.

Article breakdown

Is chess linked to intelligence?

Now, yes, but not originally. Chess is the oldest game still played today. It was invented in India in the sixth century and spread throughout Europe by traders, missionaries, and soldiers.

By the time it took hold in England during the late 1200s, chess had become highly ritualised that few people outside of royalty showed interest in playing it. Then, something happened to change all that: around 1350 CE (or 1300 AD), chess became professionalized. That's when you began seeing players making a living off their skills at this ancient pastime and that started a long period when winning at chess became associated with having a damn good brain.

Does chess help the brain?

It's been proven that playing chess increases brain activity, and studies have found that chess players have more active brains than non-chess players. In particular, they have increased activity in their prefrontal cortex, which is associated with intelligence, and the hippocampus, which helps to control memory.

That means chess is a great way to improve your intelligence, memory, concentration and problem-solving skills. It can also help you become more creative. Chess is a complex game that requires years of practice to master, but even if you aren't able to play at an expert level or memorise openings or endgames by heart, playing chess might still increase your overall intelligence.

How does chess make you smarter?

Chess improves the brain’s executive function, a set of mental processes that includes attention, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. Executive functions allow us to:

  • Organise our thoughts in order to make decisions.

  • Pay attention or stay focused on what we are doing or listening to at any given time (e.g., stay focused while reading this article).

  • Manipulate information mentally (e.g., remember the name of an acquaintance from college).

Does chess increase your IQ?

Yes! Especially if you've started young. A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that playing chess improves spatial skills, planning, and overall intelligence. "Chess is a good way to develop these skills," explained lead author Rex Jung from the University of New Mexico.

Another study found that children who played chess regularly did better in school than those who didn't play at all or only occasionally participated in tournaments. The researchers noted that playing chess can help improve performance on standardized tests such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) and Raven's Progressive Matrices test because it helps students improve their thinking abilities.

If you weren't a child chess prodigy, don't worry. You can exercise your brain and improve your memory by playing chess regularly, just don’t give up if you lose a few games. If you keep at it, your brain will become stronger over time.

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The chess paradox

Okay, it's time to get real. As Brainscape points out, the reason why studies show that people who play chess have higher intelligence could simply be because more intelligent people are attracted to the game. That said, we know that puzzles and games that exercise your brain do improve cognitive functions, so there's no home in giving it a go!

So, the question is: does chess make you smarter?

Overall, chess is a great game that can improve your intelligence and make you smarter. The only thing you need to do is to channel your inner Queen's Gambit and practice!

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